Voters who haven't made up their mind about which Democrat to support in the 81st Assembly District race got little help at Wednesday night's debate. All six of the candidates vying to replace Dave Travis struggled to differentiate themselves.
But let's face it: They are Democrats, which means they agree on most issues. And they were debating before a crowd of fellow Democrats, which means they weren't going to stray much from the party line. It would have been more interesting to see them debate before a crowd of voters in Waunakee.
All six candidates attended and perhaps the only surprise was that some of the lesser-known ones, like John Laubmeier, had more interesting things to say than the presumed frontrunners, like Kelda Helen Roys.
The candidates have until the Sept. 9 primary to distinguish themselves. No Republicans are running in the race.
Here's a rundown of the debate:
The crowd: More than 100 people.
The candidates on the state of the state:
"I stand before you today because I feel Wisconsin is in a crisis." -- Justin Sargent.
"I feel the state is in a crisis and it's time for change." -- Eric Englund.
On what distinguishes the candidates who are not white males:
"I'm different from the others up here -- aside from the obvious." -- Roys, the only female candidate.
"As you can see, I'm different from my opponents -- I'm the shortest one up here." -- Her, who is Hmong and the only minority candidate.
Only candidate who seemed somewhat hesitant supporting legislation to let communities create Regional Transit Authorities: John Laubmeier, Waunakee village president. Waunakee voted against a proposed RTA in Dane County. His explanation: "There was no effort made to include us in the process. I'll be in favor if the process is inclusionary and brings in all communities."
Candidates who support funding for a North Mendota Parkway: All of them. "But we really have to look at it carefully for environmental impacts." -- Sargent
Candidates who support more funding for the UW System: All of them. "We need someone willing to stand up to those folks." -- Her on Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) and other UW critics.
Candidates who agree economic disparity is a growing problem for the state: All of them. "There are days I think Wisconsin moved south of Mississippi." -- Englund.
Candidates who support mandating full disclosure of campaign contributors: All of them. "This is a no-brainer. Obviously I support that. How could you not?" -- Laubmeier
Audience members lulled into a coma by the no-brainer questions: All of them.
Question that finally -- finally -- riled up the crowd: "Republicans and conservatives are so clearly wrong on all the issues and the approach they take to politics and policy. Yet for so long Democrats and many liberals and progressives have continuously lauded 'bi-partisanship' as a virtue, as if compromise with bad makes sense... So, will you pledge to put doing what's right ahead of bipartisanship? Will you put getting the right things done the right way, ahead of just getting things done?"
Best response: "In a way, I challenge the premise of the question. The question says bipartisanship is not a thing we should be pursuing. What I think we should be pursuing is good public policy. If I have to deal with the devil himself to get good public policy, I'm willing to do it." -- Laubmeier.